Posted in: Commercial Solar

An archive of all our commercial solar energy stories and blog posts that have been published by SOLA. If you would like to learn more about our commercial solar installations please click here.

Solar for mining operations

Solar PV Microgrids for Mining: cost-cutting meets sustainability

The mining sector is one of the most important economic contributors to the African economy. However, mining is also facing several challenges – particularly with regards to sustainability and cost-saving. Mining operations are increasingly turning to solar PV microgrids as a reliable and sustainable alternative energy option.

Cost-cutting competitiveness

A 2019 Mckinsey review on measures to invigorate the South African mining industry identified cost-cutting competitiveness as a key factor. As an energy-intensive industry with a projected increase in energy consumption of 36% by 2035, the mining sector is looking to renewable energy, and particularly solar, as a significant cost-saving solution. This is evident in the agenda set for the 2020 Investing in Africa Mining Indaba taking place in Cape Town at the beginning of February, where industry experts will lead the conversation on the economic and societal benefits of renewable energy in mining.

A shift in industry thinking

proactive mitigation of ESG risks creates long term shareholder value.

Speaking to Engineering News & Mining Weekly Tom Quinn, an organiser of Mining Indaba, emphasised that:

‘It is now absolutely necessary for mining companies to have ongoing engagement with their investors and with the communities in which they operate in order to mitigate the risk of investor or community backlash from a lack of sustainable practices.’

This shift in industry thinking is aided by the economic benefits associated with using renewables such as solar PV microgrids to supplement more traditional energy sources. It is now widely accepted that maintaining a Triple Bottom Line is key to responsible investment. IFC’s Global Head of Mining Namrata Thaper advises that:

‘[E]xperience has shown that proactive mitigation of ESG risks creates long term shareholder value. This value is created by ensuring alignment between stakeholders and thereby reducing the likelihood of disagreements between stakeholders, which can lead to cancellation of concessions by government, labour unrest and strikes, community blocking or stopping of operations and more which are all events that can negatively impact financial performance…’

Renewable trends

‘The most advanced options… are hybrid systems that integrate solar, wind and batteries with diesel, gas or heavy fuel oil generators, without compromising reliability or power quality.’

For the mining industry, who rely heavily on consistent, uninterrupted power, the key energy trends to watch in 2020 are hybrid power, advances in renewables technology, variable power usage, intelligent seamless integration and meaningful cost savings.

Climate change, loadshedding and the fluctuating diesel price

However it is not just Triple Bottom Line reporting that is pushing mining companies to seek renewable energy solutions. Threats to productivity in the southern African region include unplanned breakdowns at state-run electricity utility Eskom, the fluctuating diesel price and supply disruption risks in the SADC region. The reliability of solar PV microgrids can mitigate these risks significantly.

On a global scale interruptions to energy production as a result of violent weather conditions caused by climate change has resulted in a growing shift to renewable energy. In response to this new challenge, businesses are focused on ramping up energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions. Spencer Glendon, a senior fellow at Woods Hole Research Center cautions that climate change may be altering the economics of long-term infrastructure investment. It is crucial to ensure that one’s power supply is independent of at risk utility plants.

Solar PV microgrids offer a hybrid solution to these obstacles. In cases of remote locations, weak grid supply and reliance on diesel, there is an optimal business case for mines to use a solar PV microgrid. This typically combines a backup generator with batteries and solar to ensure a seamless transition and no interruption of power.

Positive outlook for solar PV globally and locally

‘the world’s total renewables-based power capacity will grow by 50% between 2019 and 2024’

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) 2019 renewable energy market forecast for solar PV states that ‘the world’s total renewables-based power capacity will grow by 50% between 2019 and 2024’. Thus as there is a global transition to a varied renewable power sources the southern African region will find itself at a competitive advantage due to its strong irradiance levels (South Africa average more than 2 500 hours of sunshine per year). As a result of falling costs of solar PV and batteries worldwide, microgrids are now accepted as a reliable and cost-effective solution for industrial power generation.

The added benefits of third party financing

Financed solutions allows mining facilities to achieve immediate savings with no initial capex outlay. A solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) enables businesses to pay off and maintain their own solar energy systems at no upfront costs, while enjoying the immediate benefit of cost savings. Solar PV microgrids are increasingly the option of choice when looking to adopt a reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy solution.

Alrode Brewery in Alberton will be powered with solar PV electricity

AB InBev bolster breweries with 8.7 MW renewable energy from SOLA

Renewable energy solutions are a quick and efficient way for South Africa to reduce energy demand on Eskom’s constrained grid, and solutions are being supported by businesses who see the value of embedded electricity solutions for their supply chains. 

This is according to Chris Haw, Chairperson of the SOLA Group, who in 2018 signed seven multi-tiered Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) with AB InBev Africa that are seeing large solar power plants built across seven major breweries in South Africa.

The Power Purchase Agreements will total around 8.7 MW DC capacity. Of this, 2.6 MW have already reached practical completion with the remaining projects in advanced stages of construction.

“Not only is solar a viable and cost-effective option for us, it aligns to our global sustainability strategy, which entails going 100% renewable by 2025,” says Taryn Rosekilly, Vice President of Procurement and Sustainability at SAB and AB InBev Africa.

ABin Bev Breweries will now be powered with solar energy

The bold step taken by AB InBev Africa highlights the private sector’s strong drive towards reducing carbon emissions and procuring renewable energy solutions.

Gugulethu Nogaya, the Renewable Energy Procurement Manager at AB InBev Africa explains that “procuring renewable energy is part of our sustainability objectives set at a global level. Our global renewable energy commitment is to ensure that 50% of our purchased electricity will come from renewable energy sources by 2020, and 100% by 2025”. 

Nogaya points out that the company has achieved its 50 % target ahead of schedule. “We are currently on track to achieve our 100 % target, with the PPA being an instrumental first step in ensuring our African business is on track to achieve the 2025 ambition.”  

Nogaya adds that “in order to meet the AB InBev 100 % target in South Africa, it will require solar renewable energy facilities to the total of 191 MW.” 

Jonathan Skeen, Gauteng MD and Gugulethu Nogaya, Renewable Energy Procurement Manager, at the launch of AB InBev's renewable electricity and electric truck launch

According to the International Energy Agency, distributed solar PV systems in homes and Commercial and Industrial buildings have almost tripled since 2014. It predicts that distributed energy will grow as much as onshore wind by 2024, making up half of all new solar PV capacity. 

This is likely due to the flexibility and affordability of PV plants compared to other forms of energy generation. The rollout of large-scale solar PV systems takes much less time than other generation technologies. 

There is also a greater demand and expectation that businesses take more responsibility for the way in which they operate. Providing renewable energy allows businesses to meet their sustainability targets whilst taking pressure off of Eskom’s load.

The PPA between AB InBev Africa and the SOLA Group is allowing solar PV to be rolled out without AB InBev incurring capital costs. Instead, the company will purchase its power requirement directly from SOLA, with the remainder coming from Eskom and local municipalities. 

In 2019, SOLA secured R400 M with partners from African Infrastructure Investment Managers (AIIM) and Nedbank in order to fund projects such as the AB InBev Africa solar facilities.

“Embedded electricity generation – particularly solar PV – can quickly address Eskom’s supply shortfall,” states Haw. “For large Commercial and Industrial companies, procuring renewable power enables saving costs whilst also reducing their carbon footprints.” 

The solar PV plants for AB InBev Africa span across seven different sites in various areas of the country, including the Western Cape, Limpopo, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. 

“Combined, the plants will consist of over 23 000 solar panels. The construction of the projects will create 175 jobs, in addition to SOLA’s 56 permanent positions,” points out Haw. 

AB InBev Africa is one of the largest industrial business in South Africa, making the conversion of their sites to solar significant. “The PV systems will produce close to 14 GWh of electricity per year – the equivalent of taking over 2000 cars off the roads. This is exactly the type of clean energy procurement that we need to see more companies committing to,” concludes Haw. 

Solar and wind energy could set South Africa on track for the world’s cheapest electricity

This article originally appeared in the Daily Maverick Opinion Section.

It’s a no-brainer — a move to renewable energy will not only boost the economy and create jobs, it is also the path to providing South Africa with potentially the cheapest electricity in the world given our natural wind and solar resources.

Energy was never this difficult. Energy came from coal in the ground, burnt somewhere, put in a turbine, wires were connected, and cheap energy flowed for many years. However, this was never going to last long, because the amount of coal that forms in a year was being burnt in a minute. The world has now realised that this is unsustainable behaviour, and we’re faced with a set of future alternatives: hydro, nuclear, wind, solar, biomass, coal — each with a sidecar of complexity, and we need to make some decisions.

Ten years ago, the general public didn’t know what a kilowatt-hour (kWh) was, what it cost, where it came from; they didn’t know how many litres of water were spent in a flush or shower, how many dams we had or how many megalitres we use per day.

That’s changed. We’re more knowledgeable now. Why? Because we’ve felt the effects. Electricity is expensive and we’ve even run out of it (many times). We’ve been on water restrictions for years, and Cape Town came close to being the first major city in the world to run out. Authorities are having to find alternative methods to abstract water, domestically and regionally. Unemployment is a major contributor to poverty and addiction, and we witness frequent protests against injustice.

Knowledge, however, can help us to solve problems. If the problem at hand is to solve the electricity crisis, we need deep understanding to find the least cost kWh and invest in the technologies that will deliver that. The “least cost” does not only refer to the financial cost, but also the environmental and social cost. The industry has been poor at recognising the entrenchment of communities reliant on the electricity sector and ensuring that reform is done fairly.

In the long wait for the IRP 2019 to be gazetted, many people have missed a recent study published in the international journal, ScienceDirect, which took a bold step forward in modelling a best electricity policy scenario based on cost, water and employment. The strength of this peer-reviewed article is that it is founded on solid scientific data. And while a cold approach to kWhs might not reflect every sensitivity in our country, the study did pay attention to the largest social item on our agenda: jobs.

The paper, titled Pathway towards achieving 100% renewable electricity by 2050 for South Africa, modelled the costs of renewable and non-renewable electricity generation pathways in South Africa, taking into consideration South Africa’s current energy requirements, the expected population growth, and costs of electricity. The paper highlighted the possible scenarios for South Africa’s electricity future — whether we stay on the Current Policy Scenario, highly reliant on coal — or go aggressively into renewable energy (what the authors term the “Best Policy Scenario”).

Their suggested “Best Policy Scenario” (BPS) includes 71% of overall electricity production coming from solar PV and 22% by wind by 2050. In addition to this, storage technologies, transmission grids and gas power plants would be utilised to provide the elements of consistency for a stable electricity supply.

The BPS is 25% cheaper than the current policy scenario, and this doesn’t take into account the additional benefits of electricity being virtually 100% renewable, such as the reduction in the detrimental effects of carbon and other poisonous gases in Earth’s atmosphere, the distributed nature of the employment, and the lower risk in the technologies.

If you put a cost saving to these benefits, particularly the greenhouse gas emissions, then the 100% renewables case becomes more than 50% cheaper than the Current Policy Scenario.

In addition, the cost reductions in Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE) are not the only benefit of this pathway. In addition to their findings on LCOE, the authors assert that the low-carbon pathway will also decrease water consumption by 87% by 2030, and by 99% by 2050, compared to the baseline — which would remain in the Current Policy Scenario.

From an employment perspective, the renewables-rich BPS will grow the jobs created by the energy sector dramatically, almost doubling to 408,000 by 2035 and tapering off to 278,000 by 2050 as construction jobs stabilise. In the Current Policy Scenario, fewer jobs are created, never rising higher than the 200,000 mark, and decreasing to 184,000 jobs in 2050.

What about coal and nuclear?

The arguments to retain a coal-heavy electricity supply are becoming thinner, particularly given the overwhelming evidence toward coal’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and the fact that South Africa is one of the world’s worst emitters of CO2, clocking in just behind huge economies like China and the US.

The authors assert that coal and nuclear should be phased out in the BPS, adding that new investments in coal and nuclear could be at risk of becoming stranded assets as more banks tend to opt out of investing in non-renewable technologies.

On nuclear energy, the authors assert that, “results for the fully renewable end-point scenarios indicate that there is no need for high cost and high-risk nuclear energy in the future South African electricity mix”.

From the study, it is clear that South Africa has an important policy decision to make: one that will steer its future toward low-cost, low-carbon electricity that will create jobs and reduce freshwater consumption. It is an option that would be to the benefit of all South Africans — and the world at large.

The “side” benefit is that in this scenario, due to our significant wind and solar resources, we’d probably have the cheapest electricity in the world, adding a strong element of competitiveness to our economy, which we’re also trying to grow. Now more than ever, we need to do the right thing. It’s clear as day.

Industrial solar installations – dos and don’ts for facilities managers

If you run an industrial facility you’ll be well aware of the benefits of grid-tied solar PV solutions. Running cheaper and more efficiently than utility-provided power (such as Eskom), solar PV provides substantial savings for industrial facilities as a source of reliable alternative power. However, there are many solar companies purporting the benefits of solar power, and not all facilities managers are able to discern the best option for their facility. The below guide highlights 5 dos and don’ts for facilities managers to ensure that the procurement of solar is an effortless one.

Do: Practice due diligence when procuring solar PV.

Procuring solar PV is a 25 year decision. If chosen correctly, solar PV can provide 25 years of affordable and clean energy to your industrial plant. As such, it is important that the procurement process is done thoroughly and due diligence is practiced. It can be easy to rush into buying solar – particularly when the savings look promising. However, practicing due diligence when procuring solar will pay off in the long run. Start by asking a few simple questions about the solar PV procurement.

  • What is the objective of the PV system? If you are using it to save money, are you looking to make operational savings through a Power Purchase Agreement, or add value to your building through acquiring a solar asset? Perhaps a bit of both?
  • If you are looking to buy a solar system outright, do you have sufficient finance to do this? Is a PPA a better option for your business?
  • What is your typical energy load, and how much of it occurs during the day? Setting up metering can really help in determining what the right sized solar PV system would look like. 
  • Where would you place the solar PV system? Although wheeling arrangements allow power to be generated in a remote solar PV facility, the majority of small-scale embedded generation (SSEG) occurs on site. Having either a stable roof or a suitable piece of land is an important consideration when writing up your request for solar quotation.

Do: Get a reputable company to carry out your industrial solar installation

The most important part of your decision will be based on getting a reputable company to build the industrial solar installation. This means choosing a company with a solid track record of solar projects, particularly in industrial facilities. The chosen company should be able to get good prices on high-quality solar components such as modules; design efficiently and thoroughly, and carry out construction safely and within the budget and timeline. 

If you’re opting for a solar PPA option – where you don’t own the solar PV facility but simply buy the energy that it generates – you’ll want to ensure that the company you choose has sufficient available finance to build and maintain the system. Making sure that the company has credentials to stick around for the full term of the PPA is important.  Make sure that the solar PV service provider can meet basic requirements, such as:

  • Design credentials. Does the company have the relevant design experience and credentials to effectively design a PV system for your site? 
  • Adherence to minimum standards. In South Africa, this includes adherence to all relevant SANS codes, and ensuring that items such as wind load calculations are carried out according to SANS standards
  • Compliance with Municipal and National electricity standards municipal/eskom standards, including carrying out the relevant application processes to ensure that the PV system is legally compliant (such as Small Scale Embedded Generation (SSEG) applications)
  • Ensuring that a Practicing Engineer (Pr. Eng) is able to sign off on the system design and construction, yield estimation accuracy, 
  • Qualified site supervision, and construction that complies with all Occupational Health and Safety standards
Industrial Solar Installations SOLA

Do: Compare Apples with Apples

Getting comparative quotes is always recommended: it helps you to compare different solar PV companies and pricing, which helps to make a better decision. However, make sure to compare apples with apples when comparing quotes. It is important to consider that different PV companies structure their pricing in different ways, so be sure you understand exactly what each company is offering before comparing their pricing. 

When comparing proposals from various companies, consider the following: 

  • Equipment selection: the selection of tier 1, quality equipment will likely push the price up slightly, but it will mean that the system is better able to perform over its 25 year lifespan.
  • Inverter and panel derating characteristics: the derating of inverters and panels will affect the ability of the PV system to produce power over time
  • The sizing of the PV system: Is is optimally sized in order to meet your load requirements? A system that is too large or too small won’t save you the optimal amount of money. A slightly higher AC-DC ration will also affect price.
  • Lifetime savings and guaranteed savings: make sure you compare these two metrics, as the initial EPC price might differ but offer more in the way of lifetime savings, etc.  
  • Total guarantee/warranty package, insurance and liability: what parts of the system are insured and have warranties? This will affect the costs of upkeep and maintenance of the system. 

If you are thinking of entering into a solar Power Purchase Agreement (eg. buying solar energy directly), consider the following when comparing quotes:

  • The length of the PPA. Generally, the longer the PPA, the more affordable the tariffs will be. The length of the PPA will need to suit your business’s needs over the long term, considering things like whether the business would like to take ownership of the PV system.
  • The tariff escalation. At a first glance, a PPA tariff might appear higher, but it will have a lower escalation throughout the length of the PPA. Understanding the escalation is important to consider
  • Any upfront payments – again, a lower tariff might be because of a large upfront payment, so it is important to consider when comparing quotes. This is also the case with any bullet payments during the term or at the end of the PPA. 
  • Whether insurance and part replacement is included in the tariff. Again, a lower tariff might have excluded these items, making the costs more over the long run.
  • Forex – how forex is calculated and included on the agreement will affect the price. 

Don’t: Delay the solar procurement process

As much as it is important to practice due diligence when procuring solar PV, delaying the process unnecessarily is also seriously detrimental to the solar PV process. Solar PV savings start from day 1 – meaning that delaying the process is also delaying the cost savings. If the process is delayed, there could be unnecessary complications and expenses, such as 

  • Availability of the construction team and build schedule – most companies have tight timelines and their availability could mean that the process is further delayed if your project is not booked into the build schedule timeously.
  • SSEG applications – delaying choosing a solar PV provider can result in a delayed SSEG application, which can result in delays to switching the PV system on (and thus benefiting from the clean energy that it provides!)
  • Structural assessments – delaying the procurement process can also affect the structural assessment process, which is an essential part of rooftop solar PV systems. This can result in an overall delay of constructing the project. 

Dont: forget to calculate your cost savings through solar – both monetary and environmental 

At the end of the day, the solar PV system will save your business significantly in terms of operational costs. However, there is also significant benefit in terms of environmental savings. Keeping track of the carbon emissions savings is an important way to acknowledge the value of the solar PV system. 

Making sure that you have a competent Operations and Maintenance Service Partner will ensure that you can keep track of the relevant cost savings on a monthly basis and ensure that the plant is performing optimally. This can help to diagnose and solve any issues early, saving money for your operations.

If you have opted for a solar PPA, ensure that your partner provides you with carbon emissions savings with your monthly invoice, so that you can use the data when calculating your overall carbon savings. Solar PV is a choice that not only saves money – it is a conscious choice that ultimately will sustain generations to come. It’s something to be proud of, and use in your marketing strategy.

In conclusion, solar installations are useful for industrial facilities. Saving costs and carbon, they are a surefire way to increase cost savings. Following the above dos and don’ts will ensure that your solar installation is ultimately the right fit for your business. 

Solar for mines

How solar for mines helps to reduce operational costs and achieve a lower carbon footprint

Reliance on third-party infrastructure a significant risk for mines

The outlook for the mining industry in South Africa was a mixed bag in 2018 with bulk commodity prices continuing to rise from their lull at the beginning of 2016, while precious metals continued to struggle. Cost increases have put the mining industry under significant pressure and although price plays a crucial role in profitability, there are large fixed-cost elements associated with mining. Thus maintaining and ensuring optimum production levels plays a significant role in achieving profitability. 

This is why reliance on over-stretched third-party electricity suppliers such as Eskom can compromise profitability. In PwC’s annual publication highlighting trends in the South African mining industry it was reported that one of the significant subcategories driving risk is reliance on third party infrastructure with the cost and availability of electricity and water still a concern.

Mining facilities that typically rely on diesel electricity can use a solar microgrid to reduce the overall cost of energy, increase energy resiliency, thus ensuring control of their energy and power requirements. SOLA’s energy storage services department has considerable experience in combining battery storage solutions and existing generators in microgrid systems ensuring a continuous, uninterrupted electricity supply which is integrated with all other power sources.

Namibia and Botswana considering a 20-year, 4.5 GW solar push

‘The market for electricity produced by the mega-solar projects in Botswana and Namibia includes 12 other countries in the region that could be connected via new and/or upgraded transmission infrastructure,’ – WEF

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Future Council on Energy, has revealed that the governments of Botswana and Namibia are planning to develop 5 GW of solar capacity over the next two decades. Namibia and Botswana are considered perfect candidates for solar owing to their high solar radiation, strong legal and regulatory environments, suitable land availability and potential to host a low-cost, efficient electricity market to meet rising demand in the region. It has been suggested that this ambitious project, if completed, could lead to Namibia and Botswana exporting power to South Africa.

Botswana, a founding partner in a responsible mining initiative

Reducing carbon emissions is part of a global trend in the mining industry. Bloomberg reported last month that an explosive demand for renewable energy is expected to drive a global rush of exploitation, thus Botswana, the US, Australia and Peru are founding partners in an initiative to encourage responsible mining of rare earths and other minerals used in renewable energy projects such as solar panels, wind turbines and car batteries. 

Botswana’s mining industry contributes a third to the country’s GDP and 50% of tax earnings, and although the last quarter has seen a dip, economic growth is projected to pick up to 4.6% in 2020, supported by ongoing structural reforms aimed at diversifying the economy. It is perfectly primed to implement solar energy storage for mines owing to high solar radiation, the remote location of its mining facilities, weak grid supply and reliance on diesel.

Projected economic growth in Namibia in 2020

The IMF reports that Namibia’s economy will return to growth in 2020 after contracting for three straight years, though a failure to implement structural reforms could contribute to sluggish growth. Namibia has the second highest solar irradiation levels in the world, thus making solar energy storage for mines an appealing option.

No longer a question of if, but when

‘Industries that aren’t moving towards zero-carbon emissions will be punished by investors and go bankrupt’

Industries that aren’t moving towards zero-carbon emissions will be punished by investors and go bankrupt, warned the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, last week. Thus renewable and storage technologies present the perfect solution by reducing energy costs while improving power quality and lowering carbon emissions.

The climate crisis will have a real financial effect on all major industries. Last Tuesday Carney told large corporations that they had two years to agree to rules for reporting climate risks before global regulators devised their own and made them compulsory.

Energy autonomy or supplementing grid supplied energy with embedded energy generation are both solutions to optimising production costs and reducing carbon footprint. Solar PV is both a cost-effective and decentralised form of energy, making it perfect for mines and other large scale energy-producers choosing to supplement their supply.

 Off-grid solar provides the ideal energy storage solution for mines. Remote locations, weak grid supply and reliance on diesel provide the optimal business case for solar PV microgrid. To test if your mining facility is suited to making the switch to off-grid make use of SOLA’s user-friendly mining tool.

Is solar energy suitable for my business?

You may have heard of solar PV – perhaps you even know other businesses that are using it. However, you might be wondering if solar PV is relevant for your business. It is worth considering that various factors affect the overall costs and tariffs of solar PV systems. 

Is solar PV right for my business?

At the outset, the best way to determine if your business could benefit from solar PV is by asking a few simple questions:

  1. Are you based in an area with good irradiation (solar resource)?
  2. Do you have a good quality, spacious roof or available open land near to your business?
  3. Do you use the bulk of your energy during the day?
  4. Are your reliant on diesel generators to keep your operation running during power cuts or because of lack of grid access?

If you answered “yes” to any two of the above, solar PV is definitely worth considering for your business. The aspects mentioned above are explored in more detail below. 

1. Good solar irradiation

It goes without saying, but solar PV performs better under conditions with great solar irradiation. If you are based in Africa, you are lucky: Africa has some of the best solar irradiation in the world, so it is generally a no-brainer. However, there are a few factors that might influence the quality of irradiance, which could affect the overall PV system size and thus the cost.

  • Weather: Weather can influence the quality of the irradiance. Things like extreme heat and humidity can affect how well solar modules perform, making irradiance quality vary in different geographic locations.
  • Pollution: pollution in the form of smoke and gases or particles can lower irradiation; it can also collect on solar modules and reduce their efficacy. 
  • Shading: Factors such as large buildings, highways and trees can shade roof areas during the day, causing the solar PV to stop producing. If your solar PV engineering firm is reputable they should be able to carry out an extensive shading analysis. 

2.Roof space and quality

Rooftop solar PV is often the most cost-effective solution for Commercial and Industrial businesses. As such, the size of your business’s roof, including the type of roof and if it is structurally sound, is an important factor to consider when scoping out the feasibility of solar PV.

If your roof is not suitable for mounting solar panels, it is important to consider if there is land nearby that could house a ground-mounted solar PV solution. All of these factors can affect the cost, and therefore the feasibility, of solar for your business. 

3.Energy Demand and use

An essential factor to evaluating the efficacy of a solar PV system is energy demand and use. Two factors come into this: the business’s peak power (kVA) requirements, as well as its electricity use (kWh). If the business is a high energy consumer, especially if it runs 7 days a week, the costs of solar will likely be much cheaper. However if the business has large amounts of electricity usage at night, for example, it might make the cost of the system more expensive. 

4.Diesel generator usage

In Africa, many business operations rely on diesel generators in order to keep the power on, either due to weak or unreliable electricity grids, or because they have no access to the grid. In general, electricity generated by diesel is very expensive, making a solar PV microgrid, including batteries, a great way to save and cut back on this. 

Procuring solar: your options

If you are convinced that solar PV sounds like a good intervention, remember that the following options exist to procure solar PV for your business:

  • Buy solar energy directly – enter into a solar PPA in order to use solar PV electricity without any capital expenditure. The solar PV system belongs to SOLA, and you simply pay for the electricity that you use. The longer the term of the PPA, the lower the tariff over the system’s lifespan (20 years).
  • Build a solar PV system – purchase a solar PV system that your business will own, and simply pay for annual maintenance and upkeep. SOLA will design and construct the PV system for you, ensuring that it performs as predicted, and will maintain the system going forward.

Is solar feasible for my business?

If you spend over R100 000 (US$ 7000) on electricity per month, fill in some basic information in our Solar Feasibility Tool. We will evaluate the efficacy of solar for your business free of charge, and provide you with a few simple options to go forward, should you wish to proceed. 

Industrial and Commercial solar PV projects

SOLA secures R400M to finance solar PV projects for Commercial and Industrial properties through Power Purchase Agreements

A clean fund for the future

The SOLA Group has secured R400m in order to build commercial and industrial solar PV facilities across Southern Africa. The renewable energy fund, Orionis, will enable 40 MW of solar PV projects to be built without capital expenditure by the electricity off-takers.

The deal is a result of a partnership between the SOLA Group, African Infrastructure Investment Managers (AIIM), and Nedbank Energy Finance, who have partnered to provide affordable solar PV solutions for businesses that are in dire need of electricity security.

Chris Haw, chairperson of the SOLA Group, believes that  the clean energy solutions created by the fund are timeous.
“This partnership brings together three highly experienced entities whose combined skills offer consumers clean energy solutions at a time when our country desperately needs it,” he said. 

“This partnership brings together three highly experienced entities whose combined skills offer consumers clean energy solutions at a time when our country desperately needs it”

SOLA’s extensive track record of developing and building solar PV has allowed for the development of the Orionis fund, which will have the ability to fund 40 MW worth of projects. The forthcoming pipeline already includes 15 MW of solar PV Power Purchase Agreements, including several breweries and other industrial facilities around South Africa. The consumers pay for their clean energy directly, through a PPA tariff that is typically 20% lower than Eskom or their municipal provider’s rates.

The financed model would allow sectors focused on short-term cost reductions in their Opex budgets, such as FMCG companies, the opportunity to tap into solar power. This would allow reductions in operating costs and in carbon emissions, which are generally very important to industrial sectors. The financed solar PV is provided through a legal arrangement called a Power Purchase Agreement.

What is a PPA? 

A commercial solar PPA enables a fully integrated solar photovoltaic system to be installed and provide electricity to the entity through a customised monthly payment plan, typically at a tariff that is 20% lower than Eskom. PPAs can also include the option to take ownership of the PV system at the end of the financed period, with no upfront installation costs. The conditions of power purchase are detailed in the PPA which is negotiated directly with each client to ensure the agreement is workable for both parties.  

How do clean energy funds reduce opex?

As mentioned, financed renewable energy projects will enable industrial facilities to access secure and cheaper power, and free up capex for investment into their core business activities. But how does this work? 

Over the last few years, reduced costs of embedded electricity generation such as solar PV have interrupted the traditional model of electricity production. In other words, solar PV power is rapidly becoming the cheapest form of power to procure globally. In order to fund solar PV projects, however, large sums of capital are needed in order to permit, design, construct and keep the solar PV operational – similar to a regular utility such as Eskom. 

Whilst companies can opt to buy their PV systems outright, through an Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) option, there is often little need for the entity to own the PV system themselves, as their main goal could be to reduce their operating expenses. Without available Capex, companies would need to secure financing in order to fund the construction of these projects.

SOLA’s PPA offering, through consolidating the finance, design, construction and operation of solar projects, allows companies to access cheaper finance than procuring it individually. “Operating at scale allows SOLA to provide lower tariffs and more competitive rates, reducing costs of financing,” adds Haw. 

For large commercial and industrial companies, PPAs enable flexible procurement of electricity, allowing them to consume the cheapest electricity available at a given time whilst also reducing their carbon footprints.

How financed solar PV can support the African Economy

Allowing small-scale, and flexible embedded generation of electricity is a key aspect to transition to a low-carbon economy, as it allows for increased penetration of renewables. 

Supporting the further deployment of small-scale embedded generation (SSEG) plants, according to Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Energy Centre, will also create thousands of full-time jobs and help to grow hundreds of small businesses across the country. The SOLA Group currently employs 50 full-time staff members for its South African operations, and the construction of 40 MW of solar PV projects through the fund is likely to create an additional 880 jobs in the coming years.

“The model of electricity generation that incorporates both centralised and distributed electricity will improve the ability for South Africa to meet energy demand, reduce electricity costs and strengthen resilience to outages,” concludes Haw. 


FMCG industrial manufacturing has great potential for Africa

Solar for the FMCG Sector: Clean Energy Solutions that Work

FMCG players

FMCG is one of the largest drivers of the industrial sector in Africa, presenting a wealth of opportunity for manufacturers and distributors. The industry is comprised of non-durable goods that are produced, sold and consumed quickly. These products take the form of consumables such as beverages, packaged foods, toiletries and over-the-counter medication.

Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) are a market with tremendous potential to drive economic growth in the SADC region and further afield. However, the industry is heavily dependent on reliable power, secure and efficient transport routes and strong distribution networks. FMCG typically have a small profit margin but are lucrative when sold in large quantities, thus a reduction in energy costs goes a long way towards bolstering narrow profit margins.

FMCG industrial manufacturing has great potential for Africa

Brilliant technologies and brave entrepreneurs

‘Africa has nine times the solar potential of Europe and an annual equivalent to one hundred million tons of oil.’

In a recent article in the Journal of International Affairs Professor Wim Naudé reports that in a landscape of brilliant technologies and brave entrepreneurs the future is looking bright for African manufacturing. According to Naudé, renewable energy technologies like solar panels and batteries may be expected to improve the competitiveness of African manufacturing.

Peter Diamandis, founder and CEO of the X Prize Foundation, and journalist Steven Kotler note that ‘Africa has nine times the solar potential of Europe and an annual equivalent to one hundred million tons of oil.’

The resources are there and the benefits in terms of cost are undeniable. Notable FMCG industry leader Coca-Cola Beverages Africa (CCBA) recently installed a 574 kWp solar facility at the Coca-Cola Namibia Bottling Company (CCNBC). The project is expected to produce 1,016,760 kWh of energy in the first year of production, with appreciable Energy and Demand charge savings expected in the first year of production. In addition this project results in 901 tons of CO2 reduction per year of operation. Given that Namibia’s solar irradiation levels are the second highest levels in the World (at 3000 kWh/m² over a large part of the country) and NamPower tariff increases are inevitable, it makes considerable sense to look to industrial solar power for cost-savings and decentralised efficiency.

The environmental benefits for your brand

The Learning and Development Director at IRI, Marylee Townshend predicts that given considerable global and local societal shifts in the past year, FMCG brands which stand for something are likely to win out in a competitive environment. Staying neutral is no longer an option as more consumers than ever before are developing a preference for ethical and environmentally-friendly products. This is a double win for manufacturers and distributors who commit to clean energy solutions, in terms of having a stable, cost-cutting energy source and brand success. Notable industry leader Fair Cape Dairies has stepped up to the plate by procuring solar PV  energy to provide clean, noise-free electricity to the farm during the day, while reducing the farm’s total energy consumption by 16% per annum over its 25-year lifespan.

‘Businesses that commit to clean energy, such as Fair Cape Dairies, are helping to lead the way for South Africa’s sustainable development,’ explains Dr Chris Haw, chairperson of SOLA and head of the Solar Finance division.

Plattekloof Village Shopping centre, owned by industry heavy-weight Pick n Pay Retailers, has also embraced clean energy solutions with a 944 kWp solar system on its roof, which is expected to generate 1.4 million kWh of clean electricity per year. Plattekloof Village is part of a growing fleet of shopping centres electing to supplement their electricity supply with decentralized solar PV. Given the recent challenges to Eskom’s ability to supply uninterrupted electricity it is unsurprising that malls, factories and distribution centres are increasingly looking to independent energy solutions. The ample roof space available and considerable daily energy use typified by these organisations makes industrial solar power the ideal solution.

FMCG challenges

FMCG is a challenging arena with many considerations for facilities managers. These include product placement and competition. Townshend contends that big data is increasingly the driving force behind tactical decisions in FMCG. In addition loyalty card data provides unparalleled insight into consumer behaviour. Given the financial climate in the region, cutting costs and value-for-money is an immediate concern for consumers. Narrow profit-margins in the FMCG industry means that every expense matters; this is when cost-efficient energy management becomes imperative.

Breweries and other FMCG industries can benefit from solar PV

Simplifying Electricity Management

Conservative consumption and optimum production are key to the success of every industrial FMCG facility. A good place to start is a comprehensive look at electricity bills over the course of a year. Following this analysis, spikes in energy consumption will quickly emerge, and from there it will be easier to implement energy-saving regimens. Introducing solar has been proven to result in considerable energy and cost-saving benefits. Once one has identified the peak capacity charges, measures can be made to reduce overall energy costs even if total energy consumption remains constant.

Solar financing

‘Solar finance – through a power purchase agreement – allows these businesses to commit to their targets and reduce their carbon emissions through buying clean energy directly…’

There are two options when considering harnessing the cost-saving benefits of industrial solar.

Firstly there is the outright buy or EPC solution, such as the facility at CCBA Windhoek, which purchased the solar system upfront to save on energy costs. Industrial energy consumers can save significantly by altering their electricity load to peak during the day when the solar PV system is most productive, thus reducing demand charges significantly. In a facility such as the CCBA Windhoek, the cost of the solar PV system is insignificant compared to the amount that it will produce over its lifetime.

The second option is a solar PPA, or power purchase agreement. This arrangement allows businesses to purchase solar PV-generated electricity with no upfront costs, while enjoying the immediate cost-saving benefits, such as the demand charges described earlier. The benefits of solar PPAs for industrial facilities are fixed tariff increases and monthly payment amounts, rather than lump-sum capex investments. Similarly, the solar PV system is not registered as an asset on the facility’s books, but is rather owned and maintained by a solar finance provider such as SOLA. After a few years, the facility can opt to buy back the solar PV system, or take ownership of the system after a specified number of years.

Such an arrangement was entered into by SOLA and Fair Cape Dairies. As Dr Haw explains, ‘Companies such as Fair Cape Dairies that have committed to sustainability goals, may not want to purchase a solar system outright. Solar finance – through a power purchase agreement – allows these businesses to commit to their targets and reduce their carbon emissions through buying clean energy directly. During the day, Fair Cape Dairies will use the clean energy generated on their roof for their own consumption needs, without owning the solar system themselves.’

Dairies can benefit from financed solar PV solutions

As the costs of solar equipment continue to fall, industrial solar power systems in Southern Africa are more viable than ever. Given Eskom’s escalating tariffs, large-scale solar facilities are able to provide consistent power for industrial operations at costs lower than Eskom’s lowest bulk tariff. Solar PV is both a cost-effective and decentralised form of energy, making it perfect for large-scale energy users in the FMCG sector.


How to prevent loadshedding in commercial buildings

3 Options to proof your commercial and industrial building from load shedding

The nationwide spate of load shedding in South Africa is not just a highly frustrating situation for individuals: it is a hindrance to businesses and the economy in general. As South Africa starts to approach level 5 and 6 load shedding scenarios, it is important to look at the alternatives available to businesses around the country in order to prevent the loss of productivity across the board. At the same time, various different alternative sources of power should be evaluated based on their cost-effectiveness and environmental impact. The following article explores various load shedding prevention methods for commercial and industrial buildings.

Option 1: Using backup diesel generator

Option 2: Retrofitting a grid-tied solar PV system

Option 3: Going off grid using a solar PV/battery microgrid


Option 1: Using backup generators

This commonly used form of commercial backup power consists of diesel gensets that switch on when the power goes off. This is a good option for ad-hoc power cuts in places that cannot afford to lose power, such as hospitals, convention centres and large retail centres.

Before relying on a diesel backup generator, though, the system should be tested with the total load of the building to make sure that it is able to take the full electricity load. If it not possible for the gensets to handle the building’s entire load, an “emergency” scenario – where nothing but the critical systems are backed up – should be tested. An Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS) will be needed to ensure that when the power goes off, the diesel generators are initiated.

Within Eskom’s current loadshedding trajectory, using backup diesel generators is likely to be very expensive, depending on the load size of the building. Diesel itself is much more expensive per kWh than typical Eskom tariffs, and even more expensive when compared with the costs per kWh of solar PV. When evaluating the efficacy of installing diesel gensets, the following questions should be asked:

  1. How many hours per day will the genset(s) be required?
  2. How many litres of diesel are likely to be required?
  3. What are the ongoing maintenance requirements of consistently using diesel generators?
Robben Island has historically used diesel generators to provide the power needed on the island.
Robben Island has historically used diesel generators to provide the power needed on the island.

Option 2: Retrofitting a grid-tied solar PV system

In South Africa, many commercial buildings – hospitals, retail centres, distribution centres, etc – have grid-tied solar PV systems that supply power from the sun during the day. These relatively simple systems are tied to the grid, so they do not provide 100% of the offtaker energy requirement but rather supplement it. Unfortunately, grid-tied solar PV systems do not automatically prevent a building from experiencing load shedding.

Because solar generates Direct Current (DC) power, this needs to be converted into Alternating Current (AC) to be used in buildings as electricity. In order for a solar system to produce usable electricity, therefore, a solar inverter is required. However solar inverters are designed to switch off during a grid outage.

Why is this? For grid-tied solar PV systems, this serves as a vital safety mechanism for personnel that might be working on transmission lines during outages. With solar inverters off, buildings with solar PV systems are prevented from generating power during a grid outage and potentially exporting power to the national grid, which could be fatal for maintenance personnel.

Solar inverters are designed according to international safety standards that require this functionality, which means that grid-tied inverters cannot operate in off-grid conditions. As such, when Eskom goes down, most solar systems do, too.

However, this does not mean that large buildings with solar PV systems do not have options for load shedding. With careful engineering, It is possible to form one’s own “microgrid”, by replicating a fake grid-tied scenario to “trick” the solar inverters into staying on. This requires the use of a generator or battery, and specialised control equipment.

In order to retrofit a grid-tied solar system to operate during load shedding, two essential steps need to be taken. Firstly, the system needs to be isolated from the grid to prevent any exporting of power that could affect the safety of maintenance personnel. Secondly, a voltage forming source is required, in order to provide a reference voltage and frequency to the solar inverter.

Therefore, to prevent a grid-tied solar PV system from going out during a power outage, the following is required:

  1. Hardware that can disconnect the main supply from the grid, effectively isolating the building/facility from the grid.
  2. A diesel generator or battery bank that can provide backup power for the entire facility and provide the necessary voltage and frequency reference to the solar inverters.

These two points require careful engineering and a proper control system to manage the change-over, the dispatching of generators/batteries, and synchronisation of the solar inverters. It also has to oversee resynchronisation to the grid once the grid is available again. This can be automated and should not need any human input. Further, the system would need to be sized correctly in order not to trip under various loading scenarios.

With these two mechanisms in place, there would be a short down-time after an unexpected grid outage, due to the system having to switch itself on and switch to off-grid mode. Once switched over, however, the solar powered electricity which is being generated can be distributed throughout the building.

In order to avoid an outage entirely, it is possible to either isolate from the grid before an expected outage, or have an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) capable of providing continuous, uninterrupted power during an outage.

solar could help Africa's economy to grow

Option 3: Going off-grid: Using solar PV, batteries and Generators to go off-grid

Taking a commercial building off the grid entirely is another, although slightly pricier, option. Solar PV systems, when combined with energy storage, can store excess solar power produced during the day and distribute this later when needed. Solar PV is now one of the cheapest forms of energy, and its distributed nature means it’s perfect for use at source, where it is needed.

However, the costs of batteries and the sophisticated engineering of microgrid systems needs to be evaluated against the building’s requirements. Perhaps, a commercial or retail building operator does not mind paying a premium if that means consistent, clean power. (Microgrids also have particular relevance to supplying power in weak-grid scenarios – such as the one in Cedar Mill Mall which supplements the grid’s 250 kVA with an additional 250 kVA of power).

If your commercial or industrial building is currently using its diesel generators around 30% of the time, the business case for a solar PV and battery combined microgrid will likely look feasible. In a typical stage 4 load shedding scenario, power cuts generally occur for around 7 hours per day. Given the assumption that the energy load in the building is similar throughout the day and that diesel generators are being used to supply power consistently when the grid goes down, this would equate to around 30% of the total electricity consumption – making it a worthwhile investigation.

Whether it is a backup generator, installing a solar PV system with a backup generator or battery, or going entirely off-grid, there are options for commercial and industrial buildings in South Africa to prevent the damage that load shedding can do to business.

Cedar Mill Mall goes solar
Cedar Mill Mall in Clanwilliam is an islandable on-grid microgrid

Aries utility solar PPA in South Africa

Electricity in SA seems bleak, but it’s loaded with opportunity.

Originally published on LinkedIn

What the Eskom’s current state of nation-wide load shedding and their 15% tariff increase appeals are teaching us, it is that the fate of South African industry is tied fundamentally to the availability of stable and affordable electricity supply. The sustainability of the utility requires brave, informed and decisive leadership: but it is possible.

We’re in a landmark year that will determine not only the fate of Eskom, but South Africa more broadly. In May, the country will vote on whether to extend the term of the ruling party in a an uncertain global market.  The ANC’s latest manifesto has clear intentions around energy: more renewables, more private partnerships (IPPs), repositioning Eskom and ensuring fair treatment of South Africans as part of a Just energy transition. It also plans to integrate solar PV in state buildings and new developments.

This year, we’re looking at a year of continued change in a sector that badly needs a modern restructure.

Arriving at today’s energy market

In South Africa, 2018 held much in the way of energy sector developments. The renewables-vs-nuclear stalemate came to an end with new energy minister Jeff Radebe signing 27 long overdue renewables projects. Eskom’s mismanagement was placed under the spotlight and a new CEO, Phakamani Hadebe, was appointed in May. In August, the much-awaited draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) was released, showing favour toward renewables and gas and less coal and nuclear. Why the sudden change in South Africa’s energy landscape after years of stagnation?

One answer is that South Africa has started to take heed of global trends toward renewable energy. This is not simply a fad: the upsurge in solar PV technology, in particular, is part of a global market context. According to the Global Market Outlook report for solar energy, solar PV accounted for nearly 40% of all new generation technology during 2017: more than any other power generation technology. This was mostly driven by China, US and Japan, whose overall manufacturing influence also drove the costs of solar modules to record lows. It is undisputable that Solar PV’s cost per unit is now cheapest in the world by a significant margin.  Even more growth is expected in coming years.

The challenges for the energy landscape

Back in South Africa, Eskom has a major debt-service problem on its existing assets. The assets aren’t able to cover their own costs at Eskom’s current tariff rate, which is why they are asking for 45% increase over the next 3 years when inflation is just 5% p.a. Put another way, these assets are worth less than the R420Bn of debt that Eskom borrowed when building them in the first place.This is the primary cause of  Eskom’s death spiral.

The challenge for Eskom, and South Africa, remains that a different electricity path is cheaper. The cold numbers show that the lowest cost model is renewable energy and gas, with no new nuclear builds and limited further coal. This has brought up some valid social issues around transformation and the displacement of employment. These issues are important and need to be tackled head on, they also need to be seen in the light of education, upskilling, entrepreneurship and opportunity.

The opportunities for the energy landscape

The energy minister has recently said that the IRP will be signed off in mid-February.  The IRP draft, combined with the ANC’s policy manifesto, does show willingness to dissolve the electricity monopoly, bring private players into the market, reduce the costs of electricity and stimulate the economy, allowing the government to focus on the key areas of the country that need it most.

The President’s recent announcement of his intent to divide Eskom into separate Generation, Transmission and Distribution entities is not only in line with global trends, but it will also ringfence Eskom’s unprofitable generation assets from affecting its profitable grid infrastructure, which is crucial to our country’s stability as an economic entity.  It is hard to know the series of actions that will follow, but we can be sure that it will be done sensitively in an election year.

We’re already seeing large users of electricity investing in their own power consumption, and when the IRP is released, we’ll see generation licenses starting to be awarded to private embedded generators.  Most of this is, and will be in future, solar PV due to the ease of implementation and abundance of solar resource in South Africa. However, there will also be some cogeneration and biowaste projects too.  These steps are very positive, as they set the stage of a socialised electricity grid with multiple power sources, allowing the most affordable energy to be available to South African industry and encouraging economic growth.

The Future is Bright

We have an extraordinary opportunity for electricity reform in South Africa.  If our renewable resources are harnessed, we not only have 20 years of upskilling and job creation, but with our natural resources we could have, sustainably, the cheapest electricity in the world. If we get the structure right, and manage the transition in the best interests of all of our people, it will be a positive boon for South Africa’s economy. This is a major task, but if achieved, we have a lot to look forward to.